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Dvar Torah - Shemini

What is the role of a leader?

This question is a strange one to ask in the lead-up to Pesach. Pesach, perhaps most of all the festivals, emphasises the fundamentally egalitarian ethos of Judaism. Pesach is a festival when the different responsibilities given to people are smoothed over. We all eat the Seder together. We all partake of the matza and maror. We all ask questions and tell the story, no matter how knowledgeable we might be. And in the time of the Temple, we would all partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Pesach is the festival of our national birth, and its celebration fundamentally emphasises our equality before Hashem as Jews. This message is also central to Parashat HaChodesh, which we will read this week. All Jews receive the same set of commands to procure, slaughter, roast, and eat the initial Pesach lamb and to continue that celebration for all generations after that.

However, the Haftorah we will read focuses very specifically on the role of the Nasi, or leader of the people. He is to bring a specific series of sacrifices marking the month of Nissan on the Jewish people's behalf. Starting with Rosh Chodesh, he is our representative. During a festival whose main text, the Haggadah, doesn't mention the primary leader of the story, it's jarring to think of the prince of the people as having such a prominent role.

However, upon careful examination, the text gives the opposite conclusion. The Haftorah ends with a prohibition on the Nasi expropriating land from the people and passing it on to his sons as an inheritance. Instead, he must bequeath to them his own land. This indicates a genuinely egalitarian ethos that is in keeping with the general themes of Pesach. Unlike other nations, we don't set our leadership on a pedestal. Instead, we give them particular roles and responsibilities and honour them. They are no better than us; they're simply doing a job. As such, they have no more right to the fundamental birthright of each Jew, a parcel of land in Israel, than any one of us.

The Haftorah sends a clear message. As Pesach approaches, we must all prepare for our roles in the holiday. Those roles vary, but each of us is crucial in making the day special. On Pesach, we must all be attentive to our roles in making the day meaningful and prepare adequately for that moment. 

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